“…It may strike you more like a high mass to low instincts … the characters are all id; desperately (and fueled by cocaine and bathtub gin) hoping to express their secret selves, and so realize their secret desires.” ~Tim Treanor, DC Theatre Scene, Wild Party Review
Hello Theatre Fam!
The Wild Party at Constellation has opened, and this party’s going to be rolling through every weekend in October. I took some time to catch up with Constellation’s Artistic Director, Allison Arkell Stockman, who directed the production, as well as some of the actors in the show.
Allison, Constellation has been on a roll with some big-time musicals in the past few years, rocking it with Urinetown and Avenue Q. As a layman when it comes to musical theatre, I confess to not having heard about Wild Party before. When did you first come across this piece, and why’d you choose to produce it?’
Allison: I don’t remember when I first heard The Wild Party but the incredible score is what made me love it immediately. There’s an intense mix of jazz, rock, vaudeville, gospel etc. While the show is set in the 1920’s, the electric guitar is featured right away. Andrew Lippa breaks a lot of rules and I just adore the tunes. My favorite song in the show is “Let Me Drown” followed by “Life Of The Party”. I love the whole set-up of the epic musical based on the Bible which the Brothers/Lovers d’Armano (Christian Montgomery and Tiziano D’Affuso) set up in “Wild, Wild Party”. I love the theatrical and animalistic metaphors in “Come With Me.”
I’ve been stealing glances at the photos on Instagram – the set is gorgeous. Who’s the designer, and what were their inspirations?
The Wild Party
Constellation Theatre Company at Source Theatre
closes October 29, 2017
Details and tickets
Allison: The amazing Tony Cisek designed the set. It’s the first time he’s designed for Constellation, but I certainly hope it won’t be the last. The set is a cross between a speakeasy, and the apartment of our two vaudeville performers. To put it in Tony’s words, “A little flashy, a little trashy.”
I love the way the reflective surfaces catch movement and make the room feel more full. Mirrors are also a wonderful metaphor for the show. They appeal to our vanity and the glamour of performance, but also reflect our basic desires for immediate gratification, creation and destruction. (A boozy mix of sex and violence). The color palette that Tony was drawn to in visual research was that of a bruise – purple, green, brown.
Seems like you’ve got a really large and extremely talented cast. What’s it like wrangling so much talent in the room?
Allison: I am filled with gratitude for a fantastic cast. All of them have their moments to shine in the show. Powerful voices, great choices, dynamic dancing – they’ve got it all. Everyone brought ideas and questions to the process and that is why the show is a great success. It has been an outstanding collaboration.
Without giving anything away, what is your favorite part of the show?
Allison: I’m surprised by this realization – but it may be “The Juggernaut.” It’s a very exciting full cast dance number that has unison movement at times, and other moments of individualistic raw emotion communicated in dissonant harmonies and singular shapes. It’s fun and silly, and sexy and dangerous. There’s a trumpet solo. Kate (Kari Ginsburg) wails on top of a piano. Queenie (Farrell Parker) and Black (Ian Anthony Coleman) get it on in front of the increasingly jealous Burrs (Jimmy Mavrikes). What more could I want?
What have been some of the challenges of putting on a show of this scale?
Allison: The biggest challenge has been time. The show is more like an operetta than a traditional musical – almost all of it is sung, with very few spoken scenes, and it’s a demanding score. There’s also a lot of choreography – dance, fight, intimacy – and all of that needs careful attention. While I am very proud of the result, I wish we had had more rehearsal and tech time.
What are some of the highlights of producing this show?
Allison: Our choreographer, Ilona Kessell was a great star of the collaborative process. She harnessed the incredible talent of the cast and has filled our intimate black box space with fantastic movement in so many styles. Ilona was a joy to work with on this project, bringing so much humor to pieces like “Wild, Wild Party”; sensuality to songs like “Come With Me”; dynamic style to “Drown With Me.” She has a great sense of character and is laser focused on telling the story. I can’t imagine this process without her – this is truly a choreographer’s show!
Costume Designer Erik Teague has created absolutely sensational costumes. Everyone looks like a million bucks and their visual appearance says so much about their characters. Lighting Designer A.J. Guban uses all kind of boom side lighting to cut the human shapes out as they move, and up lights double the cast size as shadows dance on the walls.
Musical Director Bobby McCoy is super talented and has recruited an amazing band. They sound fantastic. Our sound team (led by Justin Schmitz) has found a magical way of balancing 13 voices and seven musicians.
I also managed to find time with three of the actors in Wild Party, who also happen to be three of my favorite people and performers in the DC theatre community. Farrell Parker, Kari Ginsburg, and James Finley all took some time to speak with me regarding the show.
Who’s your character, and what’s your favorite thing about them?
Farrell: I play Queenie – a vaudeville dancer who lives with Burrs (a clown of some renown). What’s my favorite thing about her? I guess the change she experiences over the course of the play — and I wouldn’t want to give that away. And despite her maybe more apparent self-interest, I love her faith and forgiveness. She’s not black and white.
Kari: I play “Kate.” She’s the epitome of a good-time girl (a WOOOgrrrl, I say). She’s brash, silly and whip smart. Don’t let the cleavage and coke vial confuse you: she’s cunning, aware and suffers no fools. She screams YES to life. Oh, and she’s a high-end prostitute and a big hot mess.
James: My character is Sam Himelsteen, an Uptown Producer who’s not really part of the rest of the gang at the party. My favorite thing about him is the appetite for adventure and new experience that he arrives to the party with.
Within the community, there’s been a lot of talk about intimacy choreographers and needing actors to be safe when engaging in intimacy and violence. This show apparently has both. How did you navigate the more intimate and violent scenes?
James: For me, the important thing is to find safe (physically and emotionally) and repeatable ways for the performers to portray violent and intimate moments. Effort was made to create an environment where everyone could voice questions and concerns about moments both publicly and privately, as well as have adequate time to work these moments in rehearsals.
Kari: Allison established a room where all questions and concerns are welcome and encouraged. You have a voice in the process. If something’s not working or not comfortable or whatever, let’s talk about it one-on-one or with the appropriate parties. So many members of the cast have worked together before or are friends outside of this production. With that comes additional comfort in communication.
Farrell: I would say that in this case I’ve been really lucky to have a scene partner who I already know, love, and trust. Verbal communication is extremely important when you’re staging something that’s physical in an intimate or violent way and overall the actors I’ve been working with on this show have always asked “is this ok?” The director and fight choreographer made sure to sit down with us before staging one of the more violent scenes, to gauge our comfort level and what we envisioned for the scene.
James: My character is not directly involved with much of the intimate or violent moments, so as a performer I didn’t have occasion for a great deal of work in that area. As the Fight Captain for the production however, I did have the pleasure of observing Robb Hunter (our Fight Choreographer) and the rest of the Production team as they worked with the performers involved in those moments.
Kari: I know this topic is in wide discussion right now. I’m not a shy girl: if something’s not working, I’m speaking up. But that’s me and I know that everyone doesn’t have the ability to self-advocate that way…
Farrell: Off stage, I’m extremely sensitive to touch. I don’t think anyone would describe me as cuddly. And I think every moment of physical contact on stage should be intentional and mean something, just as every word should. If we, as theatre artists, can get really good at showing the impact and power of touch or contact – including intimate or violent or violently intimate – I think we can help an audience see how they themselves have power and impact and my big hope is that that ultimately leads to all of us taking a little better care of each other in real life.
Kari: There’s been a lot of “is it okay if I touch you here?” conversation as we’re working through scenes, followed by “how was that?” after we run. We have an amazing fight director and fight captain who shepherd us through the more violent moments, including those moments of sexual violence. We are careful with ourselves and with each other.